straw bale gardening not looking good

I am trying straw bale gardening due to poor soil. So far I put in tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and collards. The bales were wet and aged two weeks or more. The plants aren't looking good. Several tomatoes died and most of the plants are turning yellow. I have fertilized with miracle grow. Not looking like a great idea so far.

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Jun 30, 2009
Straw bale gardening
by: Anonymous

This is my first time gardening in straw bales too. How often have your watered your vegetables planted in the straw bales? From what I've read straw bales don't hold moisture and thus dry out quicker than regular soil so you may need to water more often. Depending upon sun exposure and air temp your straw bales may need to be watered two or three times a day. I've also read that wrapping landscape fabric around the bales helps keep the moisture from evaporating so quickly.
For my bales I have a drip irrigation system on a battery powered timer. Each plant has its own little dripper so the water goes right to its roots.
Good luck!

Jul 09, 2009
Straw bale gardening
by: Megan

Your straw bale garden plants really need lots of food and water. Those vegetables you're growing are all big feeders, so will need a liquid fertilizer about every week or two at least.

Miracle Grow does do an organic fertilizer now, but previously it was chemicals – to be avoided. Compost tea, worm tea, liquid seaweed are all good organic fertilizers to use to boost growth on fast growing vegetables.

When starting off with straw bale gardening, it's important to have a good dollop of compost/soil to plant or sow your plants or seeds in initially. Straw bales are fun and absolutely interesting and productive — if you do it right. You have to be much more diligent with watering for a start.

Possibly your straw bales did a 'hot' compost on you? This can kill plant roots. Have a read of the Straw bale gardening page here.

Mar 29, 2010
by: Mary in NC

Your bales may still be too hot inside due to their composting. Don't plant until the inside is about your your hand down into the bale and if it's hotter than your hand, wait! You need to water almost daily maybe 2 times a day in the hottest driest days, and you need to add some fertilizer along during the growing season such as a compost or manure tea or a product like Plant Tone. Hope you try it again this year, mine looks awesome already!

May 31, 2012
Straw Bale Gardening can be very successful

I've found that much of what is said about Straw Bale Gardening seems to made made from lack of experience with this medium ...

Experimentation in using this medium is much needed.

What I have found:

Use straw bales, not hay, and make sure the bales have not been chemically treated in any way ... treatment to prevent fungal growth is a common practice

If you orient your bales so that the straw is horizontal, much less watering is needed (after the bales have been "cooked" once a day has been fine for me - more if you live in a very dry locale)

Fertilizing weekly the first year of bale use is absolutely needed, I'm guessing because the bales have not yet decomposed enough to release sufficient nutrients to the plants.

Just a few tidbits of what I have learned ...

Jun 07, 2012
bales too wet
by: Anonymous

Just trying this for the first time and have discovered why the cucumbers have started to wilt and dry - the bales are so soaked, the plants are sitting in constant wet. I pulled out some of the hay from the middle of the bales - will see if this helps. It is saturated inside, no air flow. At least that's what I think. Hopefully the remaining plants will be happier.

May 23, 2013
Mine have done fantastically
by: Anonymous

Planting to early in your bales will cause your plants to wilt, even if the bales are wet. They need to completely cool before you put any seed or seedling in them. In addition, you should not pull out the middle of your bales. That is where the nutrients are supposed to be coming from. If they are too wet, just give them some time to dry out a little. Don't forget, after proper prep of your bales, when your plants are growing, you will still need to use a fertilizer. My first bale garden took off like crazy and I had never had the huge crop like I do with this. It is only May and I am already having to find people to give away veggies to because we have way to much already and I only planted 6 bales. Good luck with your garden!

Jun 04, 2013
LOVE my straw bale garden
by: Anonymous

If you conditioned your bales ahead of time.....12 days total, they should be ready to go. Conditioning is water 1st day, 1/2 cup of water soluble fertilizer sprinkled on the bale and water...(warm water is best) keep this up alternating for the first 6 days, on day 8 decrease fertilizer to 1/4 cup....plant on day 12. The bales may feel dry on the outside but they are wet and squishy on the inside. If you want to test how much water your bales are getting shave the coating off a #2 pencil push it 3 inches into the bale and check it periodically over the next 24 hours. Too much water the bales decompose too quickly. Your plants need fertilizer, like water based Miracle Gro once every couple of weeks and plenty of sunshine (8 hours a day). Hope this helps!

Jun 15, 2013
Save those fall bales used for decorations.
by: Anonymous

Every fall my wife and I purchase 4-5 bails of straw to decorate our front yard for the fall season. These bales remain in our yard for the duration of the winter at which they began to decompose by early spring. I was informed that instead of discarding in a mulch pile, that they would be just perfect for planting by spring and since this being our first year, I am thus far elated as to how well our tomatoes have responded by being placed in these bales. If this continues to work well for our tomatoes, I'll buy six bales for next years fall decorations

Jun 17, 2013
Straw Bale Garden Help Please!
by: E.J.

I purchased 12 straw bales last fall, put them in place and they started to break down over the Winter.
Once the weather started to warm up I hosed them down, dug a planting hole in each bale, filled it with my own triple mix blend and put in my tomato plant. (3rd week of May)
I've watered when they felt dry, but we've had a weird Spring, it goes from cool, damp and cloudy to Sunshine and warm and only a few days that could be considered "HOT"!
I applied some Organic granular hen manure to them over the weekend and watered it in. Overall the plants haven't flourished and I'm worried that this will be a complete failure! HELP?!

Apr 19, 2014
Temperature of bales
by: Luluski

I used blood meal for conditioning and the temp is 55-60. There is a lot of sprouts appearing on on of my 6 bales of straw. Also I put a wood frame on top of the bales and then added fish compost and black gold potting soil equalling 4 inches. I'm in Damascus, Oregon. I'm anxious to plant. It's been 18 days since I started conditioning. Should I plant or wait?

May 31, 2014
Love straw bale gardening!
by: Robyn

I have to respectfully disagree about straw bale gardening being water-hungry with the exception of the time needed to 'condition' the bales. This takes a week or longer, but once the bales have absorbed water and are cooking along, it's easy-peasy to keep things moist with a soaker hose. I use ours every 2-3 days for 5 minutes. Tops.

This is not a lot of water by my estimation, especially in a dry hot environment.

The reason we chose to use this method is we are renters, the soil is heavy clay, highly compacted crap, we needed a garden this year, and water conservation was vital as we live in urban Los Angeles.

We also are committed organic gardeners and believe strongly that healthy soil is the base for all things good that we eat.

So far (this is our first time), things are going as well as I'd hoped. We did brew a compost tea (mostly bacterial, but some good fungi as well). We used hydrolyzed fish and cold processed sea weed sustainable harvested by Neptune's Harvest.

We tested the temp of the bales daily and they reached 140F (60C) by day four. This temp was more or less maintained for another 7 days and we kept up the food (fish/seaweed) for the soil critters.

After day 11, the temp dropped enough for us to plant, both seeds and transplants in holes filled with compost.

We've heavily mulched around the bases with wood chips from a local tree service to a depth of 8" or so. Things seem very happy and so far appear to be quite healthy and robust. We'll keep up a weekly feed and fortnightly tea as soil is still a ways off from developing inside.

The longer-term plan: Next fall, we'll apply a fungal tea, knock out and spread the straw bales, add a nice feed (fish/seaweed), and top the lot with autumn leaves, not forgetting a good soaking throughout.

Rinse and repeat for a few years and the materials/labour input into the garden will begin to reverse.

And in the meanwhile, we'll have a go at (even this first year!!) growing some lovely food and flowers.


Jan 12, 2015
I loved my straw bale garden!!!
by: Anonymous

I disagree with the people who say that the straw bales are water hungry. First thing you have to make sure that the straw bales are sitting with the opening of the straw facing up not the bend of the straw (look at both sides one will be open one will be folded over). The open side holds the water in and will keep your plants nice and moist. You do have to fertilize them about once every 2 weeks and water for a few minutes every day (check your bales though because you may need less). Also be sure to keep the rows of bales about 4 feet apart and facing so the breeze can blow between them (this is done so the dew can be slowly blown off). This has been the most enjoyable way to garden for me and the most rewarding. I had more tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini then what I knew what to do with. If you are new to this method as I was last year I would suggest getting the book "Straw bale gardening" by Joel Karsten and NO I have no connection to him. I read his book, followed the instructions and had a wonderful experience. I even had a question one time made a phone call to the number in his book and actually talked to him he was very helpful and friendly. I highly recommend the straw bale garden !!! Enjoy and have fun !!

Jan 24, 2015
Straw Bale Gardening
by: Larry Zoro

Straw bale gardeners uses a lot of hype to sell books. When you go by their instructions, is when you have problems. Have you heard of their false claims of no digging, no tilling, and no hoeing?

No digging to a straw bale gardener is that they don't dig in well mulched soil. What they don't tell you is until you read their propaganda, you must dig into the bale itself with a trowel. But I thought it was no digging? Who are they trying to fool?

No tilling to a straw bale gardener is not preparing the garden bed. What they don't tell you until you read the propaganda, you must prepare the straw bale for fourteen days or all winter long. It is called cooking the bale.

No hoeing is a great one. Did you know that you can have a weedless garden by putting down lots of expensive landscape fabric? Some authors call their straw bale gardens weed free. Duh! They use techniques like any other gardener would use to smother weeds.

What is so special about straw bale gardening? Nothing. I specialize in hay bale gardening, using natural ingredients, that works.

The straw bales dry out because they absorb water and then shed it out and become dry. Solution: Bury you bales in a trench. The water in the trench will keep your bales moist.

Make sure your growing hole goes through the bale. Wherever their is straw not fully composted the roots of your plant will not grow.

You must use lots of water and fertilizer to have a successful straw bale garden. Those who say you don't need water are those who live in rain drenched states.

Happy baling, the hay bale revolution is taking over. No more expensive toxic bales but natural bales made from a tote or pine straw baler.

Feb 18, 2015
Best urban gardens ever
by: Bradj8

I've been running R&D into Sustainable gardening for urban and city growers and the straw bale just keeps getting better and better. I've just been transferring the decomposed bales into a vertical garden boxes and the results are simply awesome. The compost is perfectly moist and loads of soil. When I activate a bale (cook) I measure the temps with a probe every day for 2 weeks. Highest temp I got was 60 degrees Celsius and that was using Urea water soluble.

TIP: I use the bale as the warming table to germinate all my seeds in a large tray and then transfer then after the bail has cooled.

If you fail at strawbale gardening. Try again, its really easy once you get the hang of it.

Feb 21, 2015
Water retention trick?
by: Waiting for Spring!!

This year I am going to be trying my first shot at Straw Bale gardening!! I'm super excited and full of great plans!
One of my main concerns though is that I live in western Colorado and it is a very dry region with very little humidity so I've decided to encase the sides of my bales with home made wood pallet boxes (for stability mostly) and possibly also use some heavy plastic on the bottoms and sides to help with water retention!I might even try using wood apple boxes used here in this area for fruit growers. They are quite large and somewhat easier than sawing and building from pallets.
Has anyone else tried this or something similar?? Any ideas? Also, i saw online how some people are using the gel from the inside of 'unused' diapers for potted plants to help with keeping the soil moist. It's said that this gel substance is non-toxic and safe with edible plants, ect. thought is to use it also inside my bales to help with retention of water.
Some thoughts and experience regarding my ideas would be great!

Jun 26, 2015
Yellow plants
by: Anonymous

I conditioned 6 bales as required, but we had a TON of rain during that period so I'm wondering if maybe my fertilizer washed through my straw. I planted tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, winter squash and a few various herbs and stuck compost into the holes. The zucchini was from seed and popped up within 3 days so I was really excited, but since then it has just kind of sat there barely growing at all. It has been about 5 weeks. The tomatoes and squash are getting more and more yellow and now something is eating my squash. The bales face East/West and filtered sun in the morning but hot, direct sun from about 10 am until dark. I water once a day and the plants haven't wilted so I don't think this is a problem with not enough water. Maybe not enough fertilizer? Help! I'm about to give up.

Jun 28, 2015
by: Liz

I am having a problem with my squash. Yellow and zuchinni. They are rotting before they are big enough. What is going on??? And what can I do???

Jun 29, 2015
Strawbale conditioning
by: ~ Megan

Good to see readers' experiences with strawbale gardening. When you condition the bales, test the temperature before planting – can your hand stand being deep down in the bale? If you've had a TON of rain, it's likely the conditioning was halted, and/or any fertilizer was washed through. If your plants aren't growing and turning yellow, the first solution is to feed them quickly.
If your bales are not conditioned properly, the straw will not be composting and the plants have no nutrients. Add fertilizer every week or so – compost tea etc, and cover with mulch if possible to keep temps even, stop roots from being seared in the sun, and help stop moisture evaporating.
Poke around to see what's eating your squash, you may find squash vine borer, see Squash borer
As for the question on nappy/diaper gel, here are a few thoughts to consider:
It is a water absorbing polymer, and it may contain dioxin apparently.
The diaper polymers are a set shape which can cause delicate roots a problem as they expand, whereas water crystals from garden shops are random sizes similar to soil particles to accommodate plants roots roving around. Many hydrogels used for plants are made of natural corn starch.
Natural polymers biodegrade in about 10 years, but there is so much of it now in landfills, along with all the other stuff diapers are made of, that apparently this is causing problems, such as poisonous gasses accumulating… and all the other problems to do with large amounts of waste in one spot.
Liz, if your squash and zukes are dying before growing, it could be a pollination problem. If you don't see bees around, head over and read pollinating

Jul 23, 2015
Hay, straw, it doesn't matter...
by: Kevin

The main reason that you don't want to use hay is weed seed in the bales, outside of that, I have achieved fantastic results growing in hay bales. We're not in a grain growing region, so, I can forget about getting wheat straw. Hay is cheap and readily available. There is nothing wrong at all with using it for bale gardens, just a different set of expectations, not results, that's all.

Jul 28, 2015
Don't be panic my friend.
by: Paul Burrows

I don't think fertilized with miracle grow is a good idea. As you are saying, you are having poor quality of soil so you need to apply some good quality of fertilizer. Why don't you just try organic fertilizers? It doesn't contain any chemical and it will also give a great result. I am using liquid fish fertilizer from past few years and I can say that there is no harm to my plants and also to me. You should also try it. Hope it would helpful to you. Thank you.

Apr 15, 2016
wilting cucumbers
by: Anonymous

Wilting cucumbers can be caused by the spotted or striped cucumber beetle, which spread a bacterial wilt. These beetles are a problem no matter where you plant your cucumbers. I believe these beetles can also affect cantaloupe and some squashes.

May 07, 2016
4 days of rain & cold weather and its 150 degrees in my first timer bales!!!
by: Lilly

I bought 4 straw bales last weekend and set them up with the open straw ends facing up. 2 bales on the ground and one on top of another that I placed with the straws horizontally - crammed some stakes in between for stability too. ( I wanted to see if it affected water retention and the whole reason I'm doing this in the first place is that it was the easiest/cheapest way to make raised beds and I have back problems - I hope the two story stack works for both!!) I mixed up a gallon of fish emulsion (one cap full of neptune's harvest) and patted in some potting mix I had left over.

I came back 4 days later after heavy constant rains and cooler 50s weather, stuck in my compost thermometer and it's at 150!!!! (wish my compost was) So should this temp go down in about 8 days? and the smell? that will lessen with the temp right? The flies are loving the combo of fish smell and heat and humidity in that part of the yard.

I'm thinking about using one for herbs and 2 for vegetables - any advice on how I should be treating them differently? I know I shouldn't really fertilize herbs or they'll loose their oils but there is so much talk of needing to fertilize bales. Have any experience with herbs in bales?

I'm amazed this first time bale experiment is going so well and I'm eager to get planting but I know I have to wait for the temp to go down to 90/100 or so right? lower?

I'll be sure to report back on the two story stack - wish I had read about water retention in a horizontal bale I would have tried one that way. Oh well, next year!

May 09, 2016
Strawbales for herbs
by: Anonymous

Sounds like you're going about it all the right way, fantastic. Wait until the bales cool a bit before planting and I think with herbs you might have to plant mostly the non-mediterranean (sp?) ones that don't mind having lots of compost and water.
I lost all my sage herb plants, had purple sage, variegated and some other nice ones, but they hate too much water and food. Honestly sage and thyme and even oregano are just as happy to grow in a crack in my concrete path :)
Be interested to see how you fare.

May 20, 2016
Gras like plants growing in my straw baled after 14 days of soker hose every day
by: Anonymous

Should I ditch the project... My first time trying Straw bale gatdning after 50 years of conventional gardning.

May 21, 2016
bale too hot?
by: Kate T

This is my first year with straw bale gardening and I've prepared the bales with a recommended cycle of water and fertilizer for two weeks. The temp inside the bale is very warm to the touch. How hot is too hot? I've planted 5 of 10 bales and am thinking I should pull the plants and let the bales cool off a bit. What temp is safe and how long does it take to cool off? Thanks for insights.

May 21, 2016
Temperature for straw bales
by: William

The best way for testing temp is to put your hand in deep to the bales and if your hand is comfortable, then your plants will be too. So keep testing every day and you will soon find the right temp.

As for grass growing in bales, it will be the left over hay seed or whatever straw bales you have. Leave it be or pull out or cut off so that it doesn't grow big and go to seed too.

May 29, 2016
Conditioning problems
by: Robert

The conditioning process never started. I used 46 0 0 and watered twice daily using the MIDDLE ground of nitrogen amounts and schedule applications . The only suggestion from the state agg. Rep is that the bails were too loose.

Jun 03, 2016
Help - tomatoes are wilting - bales are cold and wet
by: Rich

I conditioned my bales for 3 weeks, waited until the were cool. I planted my tomatoes after making about 5 inch holes filled with potting soil. They were doing excellent for about a week. We had a week of rain and the bales are very wet. All my plants are now starting to wilt, as if I had cut their roots off. I put my hand clear into the center of the bale and it is cool. HELP! I did add some fertilizer granules to the potting soil - could they be over fertilized?

Jun 06, 2016
Total disaster
by: C

I put in 30 straw bales conditioning with blood meal / watering as recommending for
14 days. I have planted seed and plants in the bales with little success. I have drip irrigation on the bales to water and feed with merical grow. I have farmed and gardened all my life. This year only thing that is showing any life are tomato plants and that is after the second planting. I have tried this gardening style due to health issues. Maybe if I make it to next summer I can figure out where I went wrong, if I don't then I will have the master gardener to tell me what I was doing wrong.

Jun 07, 2016
Plants not thriving
by: KJ

I just started a straw bale garden this year. I have conditioned my bales as recommended they are breaking down and when I water them every day the water runs out from the bales. My plants look fine they are not wilting my zucchini look good the plants have grown bushy and are blooming. My cucumbers are not really growing and my beans and peas are growing very slowly. My plants are not nice and green they have a yellowish cast to them. I also planted the same variety of bush cucumbers some in bales and 2 in a container the container ones look fantastic they are dark green and bushy by straw bales look like they aren't growing.

Jun 08, 2016
Strawbales and plant problems
by: ~ Megan

Without seeing all these strawbales, it's not a good way to diagnose what the problems are. But have a think on some possibilities...

If plants are stressed they will not grow well or their leaves will wilt or go yellow. So something is stressing these strawbale plants.

Until the roots get into some good rotten stuff, then they need a decent amount of soil added to plant them in. Even when growing, most strawbale plants need a liquid fertiliser weekly or so.

On the other hand, if plants or seeds come into too strong fertiliser pellets, blood & bone or similar, that can shock them, burn their roots, and hold up their growth.

It's hard to imagine too much water with strawbales, but it's easy to underwater them and have dry patches. This can stress plants and cause problems. So can freezing cold water poured onto warm bales.

Transplant shock, wind, chemical residues -- in fact most of the things that can stress plants in strawbales, happen in the ground and containers too; there's not much difference. You've just got to work out what a plant needs and supply it.

Certainly, once you get your strawbale plants happily growing, they do grow gangbusters, and it's easy to maintain and less stooping.

Jun 16, 2016
Fiddlehead tomatoes
by: Beto

I'm still using straw bales but ran into a new problem this year. I've planted tomatoes in them with great success until this year. Within a couple weeks of planting the tomatoes the tips began to show erratic growth but only in about half the bales. I kept thinking they looked like fiddleheads. The other day I read about a similar situation which the author thought was the result of herbicide in the straw.

Have you experienced this? If so how do you guard against it?

I like using straw bales and hope I can find a solution.

Jun 23, 2016
Not worth it
by: Anonymous

All of the plants I put in my straw bale garden are sick looking. From reading this forum it actually appears to be much more work than just planting them in the ground. If you have to add vast amounts of fertilizer it kind of defeats the purpose of the garden. I will not be trying this again, I broke the bales down put the plants in the dirt and will use the bales for in between the rows to keep the weeds out. I would not recommend straw bale gardening to anyone.

Jun 24, 2016
Total disaster
by: C

I put in 30 straw bales conditioning with blood meal / watering as recommending for
14 days. I have planted seed and plants in the bales with little success. I have drip irrigation on the bales to water and feed with merical grow. I have farmed and gardened all my life. This year only thing that is showing any life are tomato plants and that is after the second planting. I have tried this gardening style due to health issues. Maybe if I make it to next summer I can figure out where I went wrong, if I don't then I will have the master gardener to tell me what I was doing wrong.

Jul 13, 2016
No fruits
by: JT

Did everything according to the instructions. Plants are very green and growing well, but not much fruit, except the squash and zucchini are putting on veggies. Tomatoes growing well, but only a couple tomatoes. We have about ten different varieties, and all doing the same. Flowers, but not much fruit on them. What fertilizer helps put on fruit? Peppers of all sorts are doing Ok in growth, but barely putting on peppers, except for a couple on each. I use time release fertilizers. I read bone meal is good. Any suggestions.

Jul 25, 2016
slumping bales
by: Kim

We are trying this type of gardening due to my having had back surgery. My husband got some telephone pole pieces and set pallets on top and we put the bales on top of the pallets so the tops of bales are about waist high so I don't have to bend over to tend garden. It seems to be working well but I forgot how tall tomatoes get so I might have to harvest them with a step ladder!!!! We are having a good time with it except for my own stupidity in the beginning! I put non-organic pelletized fertilizer on and burnt the green beans to the point they almost died on me. Organic fertilizers are so expensive here. The biggest problem was getting enough water on them so we fixed that by getting a water timer. For some reason I can't get spinach to grow. I've seeded it twice now with very little of the plants coming up and growing. Radishes, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, garlic, and herbs are flourishing but not so much with the spinach. I sprinkle Miracle Gro on the bales about once a week and water it in. The problem we are having now is the bales slumping or having what looks like animals digging into it but there are no animals in it. Is it normal for bales to do this. I'm afraid we'll lose 1 or 2 bales off the side of the platform. We've tied ropes around them to try and keep them together until the season is over here and we can turn the bales into compost but they're still slumping badly. Is there another fix for this, maybe something we can do next year to prevent it?

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